The Best Urban Exploration Locations In The US: Top 7 Cities

Urban exploring has recently exploded with popularity. Over 7.9 million people have posted images on Instagram using the hashtag #urbex to show off their explorations. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, urban exploring is an activity where people visit abandoned buildings or infrastructure and well – explore! 

The United States has many cities that make great spots to go urban exploring. From abandoned train and subway stations to spooky hotels and even entire cities, the United States has some must-see places for your next urbex trip. Do you want to start urban exploring but don’t know where to go? Read this guide for our top seven urban exploration locations in the United States.  

7 – New York City, New York

With property at a premium price in New York, often ruins don’t stick around for too long. But every once in a while a site will stay and become one of the city’s remarkable urban exploration locations. On the other hand, you never know how long these spots will be around so it’s best to visit them soon. 

 Rockaway Beach Branch Rail Line

The Rockaway Beach Branch rail connected the beaches of Rockaway Queens with Northern Brooklyn. As the subway gained more popularity and increased connections throughout the city the Rockaway Beach Branch rail line service was canceled in 1962. The Long Island Railroad kept the property rights but didn’t maintain the track.  

Today this three-mile stretch of track is an ideal spot for urban explorers. You can follow the decaying track from Rego Park through the woods all the way down to Ozone Park. This site is pretty safe to visit and makes a great urbex trip for beginners. 

Roosevelt Island Smallpox Hospital 

The Roosevelt Island smallpox hospital was built in the 1850s to quarantine and treat smallpox patients. The Gothic-inspired building was built along the East River’s Roosevelt Island known at the time as Blackwell’s Island. Later on, the building became a dormitory for a nursing school. After the school was moved to Queens the building was abandoned. 

In 1971 there was a coordinated effort to save the building from demolition. Architect Giorgio Cavaglieri and preservationist found to keep the landmark standing tall and proud and won. Today the Roosevelt Island Smallpox Hospital is on the National Register of Historic Places and a key part of Roosevelt Island’s Southpoint park system. 

6 – Chicago, Illinois

Chicago is one of America’s best urban exploration locations. Curious Chicagoans have been exploring their cities abandoned and decaying sites for years and documenting their finds. Much of the city is being bought up, demolished, and then rebuilt but there are still quite a few ruins the explore in Chicago.

Damen Silos

Located in McKinley Park, Damen Silos is probably the most well-known urbex site in Chicago. These fifteen-story grain silos were built in 1906 by the Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. When they were built they were the tallest structures in the city. The silos have been left useless and abandoned since 1977 after an explosion and they soon became a hotspot for graffiti artists. 

One of the most popular areas to photograph at this site in the basement. There is a series of tunnels that can be pretty tricky to navigate. These tunnels are thousands of square feet and stretch out under half of the twenty-four-acre lot. There is also a popular fire escape that gives a panoramic view of the city. But enter at your own risk! It is illegal to go inside Damen Silos. 

Manteno State Hospital 

If you are looking for a spooky urbex site, then Manteno State Hospital is the urban exploration location for you. A little less than an hour south of Chicago sits an abandoned psychiatric hospital. While some of the buildings have been demolished the ones that are left are in impeccable condition.

The hospital opened amid the Great Depression in 1930. During its first years, it was an operational headache. Add in the medical staffing shortages during WWII and you had a full-fledged nightmare. In 1939 Manteno had an outbreak of typhoid that killed sixty patients. 

There were also allegations that the U.S. military was conducting secret medical testing during WWII. Patients would be unknowingly injected with malaria in an attempt to find a cure. As a result in 1946 alone, four-hundred-sixty-two patients died from the experiment. It was later revealed the medical center also conducted experimental surgeries without patient consent. We are not saying Manteno State Hospital is haunted, but out of all the urbex sites in Chicago, this one is probably the most likely to be haunted. 

Full Guide to Chicago

5 – Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minneapolis, Minnesota comes in highly on our list of best urban exploration locations. The sites in Minneapolis just might surprise you. The sites Minneapolis is best known for are its underground tunnels, but there are extensive urban exploration locations throughout the city.

The Ford Motor Mining Tunnels

The Ford Motor Mining Tunnels were built in 1925 and are located beneath the Ford assembly plant in St. Paul. During the 1930s the tunnels were mined for silica. The sand was used to make glass for automobiles. Later on, when Ford quit manufacturing its glass on-site, the tunnels were shut down. The abandoned tunnels are by far the most extensive mining tunnels in Minneapolis and they connect the Ford Assembly Plant and the Ford Hydro Plant. 

The Labyrinth

One of the biggest draws for urban explorers to Minneapolis is the Labyrinth. Aptly named this tunnel system beneath the streets of St. Paul is massive. They reach at least five stories deep and extend onward for miles. These underground tunnels offer a unique pristine view.

The Labyrinth was built in the 1800s and seven different systems that are connected. Some of these systems are still in use as sewer systems, water gas, and even phone lines. These tunnels hold the power for the city’s electric streetcars that were popular in the 1800s. Each tunnel holds it’s own style with the occasional carvings left by the workers who created them. 

4 – Seattle, Washington

The Pacific Northwest sure has seen its share of booms and busts. Places that were once thriving communities during the gold rush days now sit and collect dust. Seattle has some pretty neat urban exploring locations and that is why it is on our list at number seven. 

Fisher Mill 

Fisher Mill was built at the turn of the century in 1911. This bustling flour mill used to process three million pounds of flour per day. The mill is located on Harbor Island in Seattle. You can’t miss its towering concrete silos. These days Fisher Mill is abandoned, empty, and decaying. Graffiti litters the walls. Every once in a while you can spot an old, broken typewriter or other objects. Everything inside the old mill is frozen in time like a time capsule. 

Photo by user disraeligear on Reddit.

Nike Nuclear Missile Site

The Nike Nuclear Missile Site is slightly north of Seattle in Redmond, Washington. The site was established in 1957 to defend off the threat of a Soviet Union attack during the Cold War. The site was decommissioned in 1974 and ever since then, it has slowly decayed. There were around twenty-four missile launch sites like these in the Seattle area during the Cold War. These sites were going to be used as a precautionary point against Russian missiles and aircraft attacks. They stored nuclear missiles and stood at the ready for firing.  

 Today, the Lake Washington school district bought the site and have converted some of it into a park. However, the majority of the site was demolished in January of 2019. You can still visit the Nike Nuclear Missile Site Park but all that is left of the other sections is the foundation of the buildings. 

Full Guide to Seattle

3 – Centralia, Pennsylvania

Centralia is a very unique city on our list of urban exploration locations. Why? Well, because it’s not really a city at all. It used to be. Today it is more of a ghost town. Centralia was a tiny town located in Columbia County Pennsylvania. In 1962 it had a population of just over one thousand people. Centralia has about ten residents who refuse to leave today. Stripped of its zip code mail doesn’t run here. Buildings have been demolished and the roads won’t take you anywhere.  

Centralia used to be a coal-mining town. Back in 1962, there was a huge fire that broke out in the underground mines believed to be started by a nearby landfill. The fire burned an estimated 400 acres and is believed to have enough fuel from the landfill to burn well into the future. The roadways have buckled under the heat from the fire. This town was part of the inspiration for Silent Hill. Soon the locals left the town because the carbon monoxide was beginning to take a toll on their health and now it sits abandoned in eerie silence.  

The town is still accessible by foot. You can walk around and still see smoke coming up from the cracks in the road. Be careful and watch out for sinkholes because the ground is very unstable in many parts of the town.  

2 – Detroit, Michigan

Detroit is an American city that has experienced unprecedented booms and busts making it one of our top urban exploration locations. Its ruins have been there for decades but people are just now really taking note. One company is even running urban exploration tours throughout the city. But there are lots of sites you can see on your own around Detroit. Here are a few of our favorite urban exploration locations throughout Detroit.

The Detroit Public Schools Book Depository

Originally built to serve as the Detroit Post Office, the Detroit Public Schools Book Depository was used to warehouse surplus school supplies for the city. In 1987 a fire broke out and quickly spread through the book depository devastating the building. Thousands of books and other equipment were left by Detroit Public Schools to decay inside the burned building. 

The building has since remained abandoned by the public except for some vandals and graffiti artists. When you visit the book depository you can still see some books stacked up untouched from the fire. The building was boarded up after a body was found in 2017. Rumor has it that it will be demolished although no date has been set.  

The Michigan Theater

In 1982 the Michigan Theater opened its doors during a time of great industry in Detroit. The building is seven stories tall and would seat four thousand people at the time making it one of the largest theaters in the country. Designed by the architectural firm Rapp & Rapp the building cost five million dollars to build. 

When people bought televisions for their homes the theater attendance started to decline and eventually it closed its doors in 1967. Several businesses tried to take over the space but in 1975 the building was abandoned. Today the building is used for parking cars. The remains of the building were featured in 8 Miles and the ceiling is truly an unforgettable sight. 

Full Guide to Detroit

1 – Jacksonville, Florida

Are you surprised? Jacksonville, Florida tops our list of best urban exploration locations in the United States. This may surprise some seasoned explorers. However, Jacksonville has a rich cultural heritage and many sites to explore. Many of these sites are not exactly legal to enter, so remember to leave only footprints and take only photos.

This city has quickly become a mecca for urban exploration locations in the United States. The perfect mix of expansive land area, industrial growth, desolation and decay, and great weather year-round makes it an ideal spot for some strong urbexing.

 The Ambassador Hotel 

The Ambassador Hotel originally opened in 1924 as luxury apartments in the downtown area. Then in 1944, it was converted into the Three-Ten Hotel. The building itself did not change much and eventually in the mid-fifties it was named The Ambassador Hotel. 

The Ambassador Hotel is a six-story limestone and brick building built in the Georgian Revival style. The building is in the shape of an H which gives every occupant a room with a view. In 1983 it was added to the National Register of Historic Buildings but it continued to decay. In 1997 the city condemned the building because it wasn’t up to code.

There are still stickers in all the rooms and some of them stick with the date the building was condemned. In 2005 plans were announced to remodel the building but they were put on hold. The building remains a fascinating time capsule for all you enter to explore. 

Photo by John Bourscheid of Jacksonville Photo.

Underground Pedestrian Walkway

In downtown Jacksonville, there is an abandoned, underground pedestrian walkway. It sits next to the rail lines by the Prime Osbourne Convention Center. This site dates back to the twenties when Jacksonville had a trolley system. There was a beautiful underground passage for the main station which was housed at the Prime Osbourne Convention Center.

The entryways are now mostly filled with dirt. Take a walk (or a swim, the tunnels are currently submerged in a good bit of stagnant water) along the tunnels and you will see the brickwork is still in great shape. Old light fixtures dangle from the roof and rusted signage is on the walls. This ruin is definitely a great spot to see how the city used to be. 

Photo by David Bulit of Abandoned Florida.

The Neff House

Tucked in the woods at one of the highest points in the Jacksonville area (Fort George Island) is a mansion known as the Neff House. On property owned by the Florida State Parks Service, this mansion has an interesting and storied history. Built by the Neff family in the 1920’s, they all died before being able to enjoy the house.

It sat vacant for a while, until the Betz family moved in. The Neff House was the property associated with the eerie and mysterious Betz Sphere. Currently, the house sits sealed shut, and is frequented by those willing to hike deep into the Florida brush.

Photo by Tim Gilmore of Jax Psycho Geo.

Full Guide to Jacksonville

Plan Your Next Urbex Adventure with Great Urban Exploration Locations

With the growing popularity of urban exploring now is the time to plan a trip to visit some of these sites. As always with urban exploring, you can’t be sure how long they will remain. These are just a few of the United States’ great urban exploration locations just tucked away for you to discover them. Remember to always be careful when urban exploring. Take only pictures, leave only footprints, and break only silence. 

Have some favorite urban exploration locations that we didn’t mention above? Leave us a comment and tell us about your favorite place to explore in your hometown. Don’t give away specifics about the location, though!